All Nine Episodes Released on Netflix on October 27th, 2017
Rated TV-14 (Language, Violence, Frightening Situations)
Each Episode Approx. 55 min.
Created, Directed, and Written by Matt and Ross Duffer (Wayward Pines, Hidden)
Also Produced by Rand Geiger (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, American Crime Story) and Justin Doble (Into the Badlands, The Path)
Also Directed by Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, Real Steel), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, John Carter), and Rebecca Thomas (Electrick Children, Sweet/Vicious)
Also Written by Justin Doble (Into the Badlands, The Path), Jessie Nickson-Lopez, Kate Trefry (Souls of Totality)
Cinematography by Tim Ives (House of Cards, Girls), Tod Campbell (Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Robot), and David Franco (Game of Thrones, Westworld)
Music by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
Starring Noah Schnapp (Bridge of Spies, The Peanuts Movie), Gaten Matarazzo (The Blacklist), Millie Bobby Brown (Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Intruders), Caleb McLaughlin (Shades of Blue, The New Edition Story), Sadie Sink (Chuck, The Glass Castle), Finn Wolfhard (Supernatural, It), Natalia Dyer (Blue Like Jazz, Long Nights Short Mornings), Charlie Heaton (Shut In, The New Mutants), Joe Keery (The Charnel House, Molly’s Game), Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), David Harbour (End of Watch, The Equalizer), Sean Astin (The Goonies, The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Paul Reiser (Aliens, Whiplash), and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, The Dark Knight Rises)
In Netflix original TV series Stranger Things Season 2 (aka, Stranger Things 2), the whole gang finds themselves still recovering, varyingly, from the traumatic, otherworldly events of Season 1. They can’t truly find rest, though, even in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, as an even greater evil begins to threaten Will and the town. Meanwhile, new players enter the scene, along with the new terrors and struggles, and our characters slowly begin to realize that they must learn to control their fears, anxieties, and angers in order to survive and fight back.
First off, my thoughts on Stranger Things Season One: Fantastic television. As with many people, Stranger Things Season One came totally out of the blue for me. As someone who doesn’t watch many TV shows, I wasn’t even planning on viewing it. Yet after recommendations from numerous friends, my wife and I gave it a shot and fell in love with the characters and world that season of television offers. As others have stated, I found it to be a wonderful mix of excellent storytelling and character building with exceptional acting – especially from the kids, who acted their butts off, with props to the Duffer brothers, who made sure the kids came off as realistic children, not as cute tiny adults or some perfect version of what kids should be. And though the nostalgia certainly was laid on thick, it wasn’t really overdone and worked in the film’s favor. Stranger Things Season One felt like a TV show directed by Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, based closely on a Stephen King novel, and scored by Carpenter.
Even still, with all the love I have for Season One, how would Season Two turn out? I was afraid, in the back of my mind at least, that Season One might be a fluke, lightning in a bottle not reproducible. (Seasons One versus Two of Heroes anyone?)
Well, my fear was wrong. Season Two of Stranger Things is almost as good as Season One. In some ways, this is a bigger, grander sequel, in other ways not, and whether it’s one way or the other is generally for the best.
For one thing, the Duffer brothers are no longer relying so heavily on so many borrowed plot points from works like Spielberg’s Jaws, E.T., his and Richard Donner’s The Goonies, and his and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist; King’s It and Firestarter; Ridley Scott’s Alien; Brian De Palma’s Carrie; Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more. Sure, Season Two does have loving references to other properties – I especially caught some hints of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, Joe Dante’s Gremlins, James Cameron’s Aliens, and Spielberg’s Jurassic Park – and the eagle-eyed nerd will have uncountable Easter eggs to find. Yet I found the story here much more original, and I love this season’s Lovecraftian “shadow monster.”
The budget is much bigger here, too, and though that may be a detriment for some sequels, the Duffer brothers use the extra money well, injecting it into the areas it is needed and holding back when necessary. Also, the pacing is more confident and consistent than Season One (except for a momentum killing episode soon before the climax that nevertheless ends up contributing somewhat overall). My wife found the pacing and its movement a bit too slow for her taste, but I found its striding buildup to the ultimate conclusion immensely satisfying. In the end, that will come down to a matter of taste. And while I found some moments from Season One to be derivative, hokey, or cliché, I thought no such thing this time around, at least for the most part.
Otherwise, almost everything done well in Season One continues. The character development, powerful moments, world building, details, cinematography, electronic score, acting. All great. As extra notes on the acting: though everyone is excellent, it’s especially nice to see Sean Astin in something good again; Winona Ryder whines less; Millie Bobby Brown is bad as ever; Joe Keery has made himself several people’s favorite; and Noah Schnapp seriously deserves an Emmy for a performance here that aptly channels terror, innocence, and courage simultaneously.
I do have a few negatives. The pacing combined with the number of nine episodes causes the show to breeze by a few characters too quickly, with some members of this large cast not used as effectively or fully as possible, along with a few of the characters remaining too static or underdeveloped in their arcs. This may help the consistency of the pacing and allow the season to focus on certain members, but all could have been helped with a compromise of having one or two further episodes. Also, something this season misses that the first season had in spades is a feeling of urgency and a tightness among the group of kids, and a feeling of them against the world. This is because the season splits the gang apart, which works but damages some of the camaraderie, strength, and investment they and we had. Additionally, a few side plots and characters plod away from the main plot in a way that will be a negative for me if they are not more fully explored in the next one or two seasons. (I’ve heard that we will get four seasons of this show in total.) Finally, some elements and conflicts in the story are resolved a bit too quickly and/or conveniently, though I’m more fine with those then I usually would be, as the show has more reason than usual for these devices of convenience.
Sorry for being kind of vague in this review, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. My recommendation? Season Two may have lost some of the tightness and compelling intrigue of the first season (next season, at least keep the kids together and take advantage of their fantastic chemistry), but it’s still really good, and better in some technical aspects. If I had to keep one and lose the other, I’d keep Season One. But, thank goodness, that’s a ridiculous idea anyway. Go watch Stranger Things 2 immediately, and if you haven’t seen the first season either, binge both together! If you’re at all interested, I think you’ll love it!
I’m going to give Stranger Things Season 2 an 84%.